A WOMAN with two young children in the back of her car drove more than 35 miles along busy motorways while three times over the drink-drive limit.
Janet Marie Cunningham narrowly avoided crashing into other cars when she misjudged a bend and veered onto the wrong side of the road.
She was only stopped when a concerned motorist who had seen her driving followed her car onto a garage forecourt and pulled the keys from her engine, a court heard.
Both of the youngsters were not wearing seatbelts or in child seats.
Yesterday, her actions were criticised as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘potentially tragic’ by a former road safety officer and a drink drive charity said her actions were ‘incredibly selfish’.
Magistrates heard how 41-year-old Cunningham, of East Crescent, Accrington, travelled along the M55, M6 and A59 from her sister’s house in Blackpool before stopping in Preston New Road, Blackburn.
Tracey Yates, prosecuting, said police were contacted by the worried motorist at 1.50 pm. He said he had seen a car on the Preston road which appeared to have broken down at the lights at the junction with the A59.
“He pulled alongside and asked if she needed any help,” said Mrs Yates. “She said she had run out of petrol but he could hear her engine running.”
The witness followed Cunningham and saw her nearly cause a head on collision when she misjudged a bend. She indicated to turn right and went straight on and then go onto the wrong side of the road and almost hit another car.
“When she pulled into the garage he leaned in through her window and removed the keys to prevent her driving any further,” said Mrs Yates.
“There were two young children in the back of the car not wearing seat belts or in appropriate seating.”
Mrs Yates said Cunningham gave a roadside breathalyser reading of 109 against the legal limit of 35 but the lower reading at the police station was 89.
When she was interviewed Cunningham admitted driving from her sister’s home in Blackpool.
“She had driven on the M55, the M6 and the A59 for more than 35 miles,” said Mrs Yates. “The defendant told police she was ashamed of her behaviour.”
Cunningham pleaded guilty to driving with excess alcohol. She was remanded on bail for the preparation of a pre-sentence report and made subject to an interim disqualification.
Peter King, defending, said his client had been a problem drinker for about eight years but had been managing the issues.
“There are obvious aggravating circumstances to this offence which suggest there should be a pre-sentence report,” said Mr King.
Speaking after the hearing, Carol Marr, of the Campaign Against Drink Driving, said: “Drinking like this is incredibly selfish. If this woman had had a child killed by someone who was drunk behind the wheel she would have been devastated. I really think a severe penalty is called for.
“My 18-year-old son was killed while riding his bike 27 years ago, by a lady who had been drinking all day and had a two-year-old in the back of her car at the time.
“Warnings about drink driving don’t seem to have much effect on people until they’ve known someone who’s been mown down by someone who’s under the influence of alcohol, and then it will have a massive effect.
“The devastation it causes when an innocent person is killed like that is beyond belief.”
Philip Goose, senior community engagement officer at Brake, the road safety charity, said: “Drink driving is illegal for a reason – because it leads to deaths and serious injuries on our roads.
“Research shows even very small amounts of alcohol dramatically increase crash risk.”
Former East Lancashire police chief Bob Eastwood said what Cunningham had done was ‘unbelievable’.
He said: “Drink driving is seen as a selfish act in the first place, but the manner in which she placed those children in danger is a great surprise.
“Thankfully a public spirited man has saved those children from further harm by snatching her keys.
“What on earth she was thinking about exposing them to that, nobody knows.
“These are quite unusual circumstances and it is quite unbelievable anybody would do that.”
East Lancashire road safety campaigner Steve Johnson added: “This is a sad example because she risked the lives of the young children who were unbelted in the vehicle.
“It was a potential tragedy because no driver can predict when they might have a crash and any drink impairs your driving.
“Drivers are responsible for ensuring the safety of the children in their vehicle.”